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Interview: Ben and Ross Duffy of Fenech-Soler

By on Monday, 7th April 2014 at 11:00 am

I’d been waiting to see a Fenech-Soler headline show for quite a long time. Years, actually. (I’ll be honest, it drove me nuts that Martin had seen and experienced them in Newcastle in 2011 and I still hadn’t.) So when I found out they were finally releasing music officially and playing some shows here in America – and even better, the show in Brooklyn was on a Saturday, and therefore entirely possible for a working stiff as myself – there was no other decision but to go up to New York for it.

Further, I decided what better way to welcome the guys to our country than to have a chat with them and find out firsthand from them how things have blown up for them since the release of their hugely popular self-titled debut album in 2010. Backstage at the Glasslands Gallery in South Williamsburg where they’d be playing their first headline show ever here in the States, brothers Ben (lead vocals) and Ross (guitar) Duffy sat down with me for an intimate conversation about coming out to America and getting to finally release material here, their experience with social media and connecting with their fans, the ‘difficult second album syndrome’, playing at the Winter 2014 Olympics in Sochi and so much more. If you’re wondering what those loud thuds in the middle of the interview, that would be drummer Andrew Lindsay soundchecking his kit directly below us onstage.

I sincerely thank both Ben and Ross for being so candid and taking the time out of their preparation for the Glasslands show to talk with me on Saturday afternoon. If you haven’t noticed, I don’t tend to post photos of myself when I meet bands, but they were just some of the loveliest people ever, I couldn’t not post that photo at top of us! Thanks also to Meghan and Ian for facilitating this interview. Stay tuned for the review of the Brooklyn show to follow shortly here on TGTF.


Post-SXSW 2014 Interview: The Crookes

By on Friday, 4th April 2014 at 11:00 am

The Crookes were a hot commodity at this year’s SXSW, so much that I never was able to pin them down myself for an interview. Instead, I sent over the questions I’d prepared to ask the Sheffield band in Austin after they returned to England so they could answer them while enjoying the comforts of home. They were kind to answer my many queries on what it was like to be playing shows in America again, the making and recording of their forthcoming album ‘Soapbox’ due out on the 14th of April, and what’s next for them. Read on…

We last caught up with you in May 2013 at your show at the Scala in London. You’ve since signed with an American indie label called Modern Outsider, and conveniently, they’re based in Austin, which makes visiting at SXSW a breeze, I would imagine. What was the courtship like?
George Waite (vocals / bass): Quite short in truth. They asked, and we said yes. That is not to say that we’d have taken any offer – there are a lot of charlatans out there and we’ve met a few. Ultimately, we went with Chip and Erin because they are honest and we liked them. Having them in our corner makes a huge difference when it comes to SXSW and our U.S. adventures.

What was it like to play – and headline – an industry showcase hosted by your American label? Does it feel like you’ve come a long way, or does it feel like everything’s going according to the master Crookes plan for world domination?
Tom Dakin (guitar / backing vocals / keys): It certainly feels like we’ve come a long way. It’s been an honour to headline the Modern Outsider showcase, particularly since we’re a relatively new band to their roster. The support they’ve given us has made all the difference to the way playing in America feels. The USA can be a dauntingly large place for us to go to, small islanders that we are, and to have the label back us as they do makes it a more realistic prospect that our music might find some more fans there.

A couple weeks prior to coming out to America, you all were interviewed on BBC Breakfast, discussing a grant you received from the UK government to break America. Before I left DC, I spoke with some other recipients of a grant, Public Service Broadcasting, and it sounds like it is a pretty big honour to receive, not to mention a massive help in advancing your career not just here in the States but beyond too. What can you tell us about it? Are there strings attached?
George: We’re incredibly grateful for the grant. It allows us to further our efforts in the U.S., which could have stalled otherwise. We love playing in America – so many of our influences are rooted in that culture – but we don’t go over there to make up the numbers. We’re not tourists. We are serious about making inroads there and this grant enables us to try at least.

This was your third SXSW. Now that SXSW has become old hat to you, how did this year feel compared to showcasing in previous years?
George: This year felt a lot less intense than previous years. Maybe because we are veterans now, but Modern Outsider certainly did a lot to put us at ease this time. Like I said, having them in our corner really gave us a lift. Also, we had played Dallas before coming to Austin, and were heading to LA after, so that took a lot of pressure off SXSW as the be all and end all.

You played a good handful of songs from your forthcoming album ‘Soapbox’, out in April. How do you think they were received?
Tom: We’re really happy with how the new songs are being received. It seems crazy that we gave these songs their first live airing at a poolside stage in Dallas, with the whole gig bathed in that Texan evening light. It’s hard to believe that they could travel so far from our gloomy attic writing rooms.

Lammo was certainly impressed; he commented on Wednesday 19/03 on his 6music evening programme that it warmed his heart to watch people down the front for your turn Saturday afternoon at Latitude 30 / British Music Embassy singing along and knowing all the words.
George: Yes, and it’s incredibly heartening for us to see that from the stage too. We rely on the crowd to contribute to the atmosphere, which is why our favourite gigs are usually the raucous ones, as opposed to the most technically adept. Having people sing along is always a help as well in case I forget the words.

You had played 7 shows across 5 days in Austin during the week, and in sorts of different situations; do any of them stand out to you, and why? (To those who were not in Austin for SXSW this year, to give you some context, just on Wednesday, the Crookes played a converted garage space [Empire Control Room] as part of a local radio station’s showcase in the afternoon, followed by the very cool Parish Underground that night where Modern Outsider was putting on their label showcase.)
George: The Parish show was definitely my highlight. We went on at 1 AM and the crowd was fantastic. There was a lot riding on our gig because we wanted to prove that, as an English band, we were worthy of headlining an American label’s showcase. We wanted to make Modern Outsider proud and we had a lot of fun in the process.

Tom, did you manage to find and see Kurt Vile perform? (This is related to an answer he gave me before SXSW as part of their responses to our TGTF Quickfire Questions.) Who else did you all see and who were you impressed by (or not), who were your standouts or who would you recommend we steer clear of?
Tom: I managed to miss every single band that I’d planned on seeing, including Kurt Vile, but I did stumble upon a few treats. It seems to be the case that SXSW is perfect for discovering bands by accident, but if you’ve already heard of an act, there will probably be a thousand other people who want to see them too so there’s not always a good chance of getting into the venues.

This year I discovered Triptides, a band from Indiana who were playing on the same bill as us for Music For Listeners (at a Mexican burger joint called El Sapo Friday afternoon). They had some very cool guitar sounds, and great songs. Also, we managed to catch Sweet Baboo, who is a long time favourite but I hadn’t seen his one-man show before.

You played a gig at the famous Echo in Los Angeles on Sunday as part of a Part Time Punks show there. Was this your first time in LA? What were your expectations of our West Coast, after having spent time playing shows in New York and Texas?
George: Yes, it was our first time in California, and it blew our minds. We arrived in Los Angeles after 4 days in the desert, and it took us a day or so to get our heads around the place. The scale of LA is crazy, but luckily we had a house in the middle of Echo Park, so we had a lot to explore on our doorstep. Literally, as there were hummingbirds in the front garden!

The show itself went really well. It is strange to find so many like minded people so far from home but Part Time Punks is a great night (the kind I wish there were more of in England!) and it was a thrill to meet people who had been waiting for years to see us play in their city. We could only thank them for their patience!

The album cover for ‘Soapbox’ is black and white like the ones for the ‘Dreaming of Another Day’ EP and ‘Hold Fast’, but it comes across more sophisticated with a touch of nostalgia. What’s the story behind it and how did it come about? The dots remind of a Lite-Brite pattern. (I’ve also seen similar lettering on the album sleeve of Patrick Wolf’s ‘The Magic Position’.)
Russell Bates (drums): I’ve never seen that before personally, but I can see how you made the connection, I suppose the initial idea came from the artwork of classic albums, the band having total prominence not clouded by anything external. I liked the idea of focusing the viewers attention entirely on the band. It’s a statement of intent.

The album is probably the best work we’ve produced to date in my opinion and the first where Tom played a big part in the songwriting. I wanted an album cover which showed this, that *this* is The Crookes. Almost like a self-titled album in a visual sense. I selected the font as I desired something subtle which blended into the black to give the picture as much prominence as possible. If you hold it a few feet from your eyes it disappears almost totally. [This disappearing act was apparent to my eyes when I got my copy in the post last week. See photo here. – Ed.]

Set the stage for us: tell us all about the place where you went to record the album. Us fans have seen the photos of the isolated church in the mountains of Northern Italy, but we want to know what it felt like to be there.
George: It was quite a changeable place actually. In the mornings and at night, it was quite eerie. We were so high up that the clouds would hang low over the house – a bit like that (Playstation video) game Silent Hill. But when the sun came out, it was stunning. You could see for miles down the valley and because it was autumn, everything was very colourful. I think these two extremes filtered into the mood of the record in some subconscious way.

From what I guessed from the photos, the location seemed quite desolate. Did that fit in well with the underlying ‘Soapbox’ theme of ‘The Outsider’, Daniel?
Daniel Hopewell (guitar / lyrics): Yes, but that was more serendipitous than by design. I was more attracted to the religious symbolism there; Catholicism is such a romantic religion full of saints and sinners and angels and demons and stigmata and transubstantiation (I think the word “blood” appears more than any other in our songs, so drinking red wine in the chapel was very fitting). Songs like ‘Holy Innocents’, ‘Don’t Put Your Faith In Me’ and ‘Straight To Heaven’ [not sure which song he meant here, as there isn’t one with this name on ‘Soapbox’ – Ed.] really fitted that location. There was also something clearly Gothic in that setting which naturally follows on from our previous Romanticism. It was like living in Bram Stoker’s imagination.

George, there was some film of you singing in front of a microphone that was situated in front of a big cross in the church. Was there any divine intervention, did you sense any ghosts while you were recording there? I’m not religious but whenever I walk into churches, I always feel this unearthly sense of power in them. Were there any sightings of apparitions or did anything unusual happen while you were there?
George: I’m not religious, but there was something about having San’t Antonio watching over us that had an impact. We did start to go stir crazy after a month alone in the mountains, and every noise we heard outside would start to take on greater significance. Russ actually took a picture of the crosses on the doors with the chapel light on inside only to discover that the shape of the crucifixes had been projected onto the trees outside – but upside down! That had us spooked for a while. Still no explanation…

Tom, you played piano on this album (‘Holy Innocents’), which was a nice bridge from spring 2013 single ‘Dance in Colour’, which also featured piano. Piano isn’t really a ‘traditional’ rock ‘n’ roll instrument the way guitars and drums are. Was including it part of this Crookes’ evolution I feel we’re witnessing?
Tom: I don’t agree that piano isn’t a traditional rock ‘n’ roll instrument – what about Jerry Lee Lewis?! [Let me explain where my question came from: as a kid I learned classical piano, but in terms of use today, I was thinking more along the lines of Lady Gaga and Sara Bareilles. – Ed.] I think using instruments other than drums and guitars is part of the evolution of the band, but only a small part. We’re always experimenting with different instruments and sounds but try to keep focused on making the best of whatever song we’re working on at the time. I don’t think I’d like it if a particular texture or sound used on a track became more important than the song itself. Piano is a nice change though, and although I can get a bit lazy sometimes when playing guitar, I don’t have that luxury with keyboards, which is definitely a good thing when it comes to songwriting.

Besides the piano, what was different this time about the making of ‘Soapbox’? I thought it was a great idea, though not practical for other bands, that you brought your producer Matt Peel with you to Italy for the recording. I imagined that affected things too?
Tom: Without Matt, we wouldn’t have been able to make the album out there. We demo all of our stuff at home, but making a releasable record that has all the songs hitting their potential as we want them to is something for which we definitely need Matt.

The main thing about being in Valle di Preone in that lonely church up in the mountains was the isolation. It being just the five of us, totally sequestered away from our home comforts, with no television, telephone or internet to distract us, we could totally focus on the album and the album alone. I think you can hear that in the recording, and coupled with the amazing sound of that church and the moody fogginess of the valley, it makes it a record we could not have created any other way.

The album feels ‘harder’ than your previous material. ‘Play Dumb’, the first single you released, felt like a kick in the teeth! Agree or disagree? (I forget now which Web site it was, they’d erased ‘pop’ from your genre description, so it only reads “indie rock” now.)
Tom: Haha! Not so sure about that. ‘Play Dumb’ sounds pretty damn poppy to me! Take away those fuzzy guitars and big drums, and there’s a pop sensibility at the core of it. We were feeling more aggressive and perhaps frustrated when we went away to make the album, though, and it’s definitely true that that comes through in the songs. I think the (closing) track ‘Soapbox’ is a good example of that. We let that one grow into something quite a long way away from its original concept, and you can hear on the record that we’re letting go of everything by the very end.

Daniel, for this album it was my understanding that as a band you took a different approach in that the lyrics were written first, which was not the case for previous Crookes’ releases. (‘The Crookes Laundry Murder 1922’ from 2011 album ‘Chasing After Ghosts’ and the way George sings its lyrics in a non-linear way comes to mind.) As a consequence, as a writer, did you find that more freeing artistically? Were the majority of the lyrics written while the band was away from Sheffield, as was the case for ‘Hold Fast’?
Daniel: A lot of lines came from old notebooks, just as they always do. The ‘Marcy’ lyrics were written one night when me and Russell were walking home through The Marcy Projects in New York (think of the subject as personification). But then those feelings of frustration and loneliness which I believe underscore everything came from being in Sheffield. [You can grab a free copy of ‘Marcy’ from this previous MP3 of the Day post. – Ed.]

Writing the lyrics first was liberating, certainly, but the melody is always the most important thing to me. Without a strong melody, people won’t come back to listen to the lyrics and work out what they mean, but once the melody to a song has hooked you, the lyrics invite the listener to keep coming back.

Did playing Bruce Springsteen in the van all the way down to Italy affect the way ‘Soapbox’ turned out? Were there any other new or recalled influences that came into play when you started writing and recording the new album?
George: ‘Darkness on the Edge of Town’ is one of my favourite records. There is a lot of sadness and melancholy on that which people probably don’t always associate with him. I think in terms of the frustration that he always nails so well, Springsteen was a touchstone for us. There is always that sense of defiance in his music and that is important to us because otherwise you start to sound like a bunch of whinging bastards.

What will be the next single, video…??? Will it be one of the songs that premiered in Austin? What can fans expect in the weeks leading up to the album release?
Tom: The next single will be ‘Don’t Put Your Faith in Me’, which is the song we’ve been opening our sets with at our latest U.S. shows. We’ve been recording the video whilst on tour in America so expect to see lots of muscle cars, cacti and sunburn. That’ll be out before the album is released, and we’ll also be releasing one or two other videos relating to how the album came to be made. [Narrated by Russell, part 1 of the Making of ‘Soapbox’ series can be watched below. – Ed.]

YouTube Preview Image

You have an extensive UK tour lined up for April to start the week the album is released on the 14th of April on Fierce Panda Records, and it’s swiftly followed by a European tour. This will be your first big tour in a long time. Excited? Apprehensive? Are there places that you haven’t been to in a while that you’re really looking forward to playing in again?
George: Can’t wait now. America definitely whet our whistle for a longer stretch on the road. We always look forward to certain places – Sheffield (at the end of May at the Leadmill) is the very last show and I have high hopes for that one – but you never know on tour. It’s a complete unknown, even after so many. You never know what can happen. And that’s why it’s so exciting.

What festivals will you be playing this summer?
Tom: We’ll be announcing them on our Twitter and Facebook pages as they get booked in with us.

I am asked this constantly, from all corners of the United States; you have a lot of fans over here! When are you going to do a proper tour of North America?
George: We will be back as soon as is humanly possible! This year at SXSW we have been looking for people who will help to make that happen, and as soon as we know, we’ll tell you.

Now that album #3 is in the can, you’ve got these headline tours set up for the spring and I’m sure loads of festival appearances all summer, what’s up next for the Crookes now that you’re back to Sheffield?
George: Well, we’re home now and all we want to do is go and play again. That, and write the fourth record.

What would you like to say to your adoring fans? GO.
Tom: Go listen to Sweet Baboo. [I concur. Start with ‘Ships’. – Ed.]
George: There are times when I still find it strange that there are people out there that like our band but to those of you that do, thank you. x
Daniel: To quote the late, great Bryan Adams, “everything I do, I do it for you”.
Russell: What Daniel said, but totally sincerely.

Many thanks to the Crookes for their answers and Penny for sorting out this q&a for us.


SXSW 2014 Interview: Nick Mulvey

By on Monday, 31st March 2014 at 11:00 am

The Friday of SXSW 2014 was a busy and eventful day for me, my schedule split between the Full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s during the day and the Communion Records Showcase at St. David’s Episcopal Church in the evening. It was actually in the spare moments between these two delightful events that I had a chance to sit down for a chat with Nick Mulvey before his Communion Showcase appearance.

Last summer, I reviewed Mulvey’s ‘Fever to the Form’ EP and was curious about the meaning of the title phrase. Fast forward several months to the interview at St. David’s Sanctuary, where I was able to ask him about the phrase over a surprisingly relaxed pre-gig cup of tea, as well as talking with him about the difference between the studio and stage arrangements of his songs and his increasingly high-demand touring and rehearsal schedule.


As I write this article, Mulvey has just previewed his next single, ‘Meet Me There’, which is available for preorder as well as to stream via Soundcloud.

Thanks especially to Ellie and Simon for sorting out the details of this interview.


SXSW 2014 Interview: The Young Folk

By on Friday, 28th March 2014 at 12:00 pm

Irish alt-folk quartet The Young Folk are one of the most captivating acts I heard at SXSW 2014, and I had to wait almost to the end of the week to finally see them play at the Full Irish Breakfast hosted by Music from Ireland. I wasn’t familiar with them before we did our preview of Irish and Northern Irish acts showcasing at SXSW, but I fell in love with two of their songs, ‘Way Down South’ and new single ‘Way Home’ as I was doing my research for that piece. Their subtle yet tender lyrics match perfectly with their fresh musical spin on the folk rock trend (think Mumford and Sons but more nimble, less ponderous). Watch the video for ‘Way Home’ below, and if you’re as enchanted as I was, pre-order it on the band’s Web site.

YouTube Preview Image

As you’ll hear in the interview below, The Young Folk are as genuinely friendly as they are talented. (I was even persuaded to have the above photo taken with them, despite my general aversion to posing for pictures.) They spoke readily and easily about some of their musical influences, their spring tour dates, and how they spent their time in Austin. More importantly, we discussed their exquisite new album, ‘The Little Battle’, which is due for release later this year on UK folk and world music specialty record label ARC Music..

Special thanks to Jim for his assistance with arranging this interview and for taking the photo at the top of the page.


SXSW 2014 Interview: Heathers

By on Friday, 28th March 2014 at 11:00 am

On the Friday of SXSW 2014, I had the opportunity to see many of the Irish bands I had missed at the Music from Ireland showcase on Wednesday night at Maggie Mae’s Gibson Room. One of the bands I did see on Wednesday was Dublin twin sister duo Heathers, and I was excited to see them again at the Full Irish Breakfast at B.D. Riley’s, also hosted by Music from Ireland.

They were in the midst of a flurry of interviews when I caught up with them outside the venue, but they graciously took the time to give me some background information on their seamless vocal harmonies, their edgy rock musical style and their new album ‘Kingdom’, which is due for release at the beginning of April.

Heathers’ set at the Irish Breakfast was made up exclusively of songs from the hard-hitting ‘Kingdom’, most notably their YouTube hit ‘Forget Me Knots’. We’ll have more coverage of the Irish Breakfast here on TGTF, but in the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at Heathers’ set list from the day.

Heathers set list 14 March 2014

Thanks to Ciaran and Brian for setting up this interview.


SXSW 2014 Interview: Luke Carson and Neil Gillespie of CYMBALS

By on Thursday, 27th March 2014 at 1:00 pm

Mary and I arrived in downtown Austin late on the Thursday night of SXSW 2014, after we attended a special Sofar Sounds show earlier in the evening. Once we were back in the now-familiar downtown area, we split up, Mary rushing to see Longfellow at the British Music Embassy, while I headed off to try to catch The Strypes at Swan Dive before my tentatively-scheduled interview with CYMBALS.

Like everyone at SXSW, CYMBALS were on kind of a crazy schedule, and it took a flurry of texts and e-mails to arrange the final meet up for the interview. In the end, I only managed to catch a few minutes of The Strypes before I diverted to Cheer Up Charlie’s to chat with CYMBALS before their late night show. Cheer Up Charlie’s is another dual-stage venue with bands playing both inside and outside, but I managed to find a fairly quiet place to talk with the CYMBALS’ rhythm section, bassist Luke Carson and drummer Neil Gillespie, about their recent album ‘The Age of Fracture’, their busy touring schedule and some of the other bands they had the chance to see during their time in Austin.


Thanks to Daniel and CYMBALS singer/guitarist Jack Cleverly for sorting the details of this interview.

CYMBALS at Cheer Up Charlie's 13 March 2014

CYMBALS bassist Luke Carson


CYMBALS at Cheer Up Charlie's 13 March 2014

CYMBALS drummer Neil Gillespie


CYMBALS at Cheer Up Charlie's 13 March 2014

CYMBALS keyboardist Dan Simons

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